Attitudes to the League Cup have changed.
Gone are the days of widespread complaints about Wenger devaluing the competition – it is now used by many clubs as a showcase for their second string, both youngsters and oldsters alike.
Us Arsenal fans have become used to watching some unknown names mix it with the known ones in these midweek adventures and I think it’s rejuvenated a competition which was seen as a dead duck a few years ago. But has Arsene got it right?
On the one hand, this is where Messrs Fabregas, Vela, Merida and Wilshere first got their chance. Seeing some of these players score superb goals, albeit often against lower league opposition has been a joy these last few years, even if not all of them have gone on to greater things in an Arsenal shirt. We’ve reached at least the quarter finals every year for what seems like a very long time indeed and nearly won it on two occasions.
The key, some would say, is the blend.
Those of you that possess a copy of the most excellent tome, Football Lexicon: A Dictionary of Usage in Football Journalism and Commentary will be aware of the following definition
Blend: Usually of youth and experience
and it is this formula that we have seen employed for most League Cup games over the last few years.
Despite the visit of Manchester City’s obscene billionaires, Arsene still saw fit to play a mainly young side last night and it nearly – nearly – worked. An excellent performance by all but a select few ended in defeat though as City won 1-0. In the end, we were undone by an end-to-end break from an Arsenal corner which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Invincibles DVD from 2004 were it not for the fact that the team that were streaming towards the goal in great numbers were wearing blue, not red.
For the record, the likes of Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Miquel and Coquelin were all superb last night. Whisper it quietly, but even Squillaci had a good game. Considering the quality of the players they were up against, they all performed exceptionally well, keeping the likes of Nasri, Aguero, and Johnson quiet whilst giving de Jong, Toure and Zabaleta a lot to keep them busy. But for a brilliant save from City’s reserve keeper, Oxlade-Chamberlain would have scored a thunderbolt from 30 yards and Park was unlucky to see an awkward effort from an angle clawed away.
So youth (and Squillaci) showed their mettle and did their job. Well done youth (and Squillaci).
But what about the experience aspect of the Axis Of Arsene? Surely they’re the ones to bring an element of stability and craft to proceedings, taking a bunch of raw talent and helping to mould it into a winning team? Not this time, sorry.
Our experience consisted of the likes of Chamakh, Arshavin and Benayoun – players who believe themselves to have the quality necessary to play for the first team. However, not one of them seems to be of the opinion that gaining this reward will require some level of commitment, effort or even ability.
I’ll start with Arshavin as he only came on as a substitute near the end. What is it with him? He is fairly universally liked and clearly has the talent to do well at the top level. But for 90% of the games he plays in, he looks like someone that’s never seen a football, let alone tried to kick one. If I had a tenth of a penny for every time Arshavin has tried to beat a player by dribbling directly into him from close range, I would have to take a pay cut to join Manchester City. The man is a footballing idiot. His crass stupidity was summed up last night by a corner he took in the dying seconds. Fabianski was given the all clear to go up for the corner and the penalty area was packed and ready. Andre failed to beat the first man. A professional footballer that cost £15 million to buy and untold amounts of money on a weekly basis cannot kick a stationary football from the corner quadrant into the penalty area. I could do that. Probably.
Why we bothered to get Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea is totally beyond me – the man does nothing. Experience isn’t enough on it’s own – you have to be able to pass the ball to your team mates and Yossi really struggles with this aspect of the game. Combine this with a physical presence comparable to a wet paper bag and you have a player being paid a lot of money to play in place of a younger, hungrier, better one.
Which brings me to Marouane Chamakh. Where do you start with this guy? When he joined Arsenal at the start of last season, he was on fire. 10 goals in his first 17 starts was more than acceptable and his future at the club looked bright. In the 12 months since then, he has played 1487 minutes (around 16.5 games) and scored twice. One in an away defeat to Blackburn earlier this season and one at home to Leyton Orient in an FA Cup replay which we won 5-0. Let me just make that clear – 12 months, 17 games, 2 goals. He clearly doesn’t want to play for Arsenal any more so please let’s let him go. If he can’t be bothered, then nor can I. There are plenty of other players that would kill to be in his shoes and to be given the opportunities he’s been given so please, Marouane, either make some effort or stay at home.
It’s all well and good to try and mix a few youngsters with a few older heads but surely the older heads have to be able to contribute something on the pitch in terms of actual football? Some of the above clowns would struggle to get into a pub team, the way they played last night. We clearly have an abundance of talent at the club waiting for their chance – as it was pointed out to me last night, Nicklas Bendtner would have given us a lot more than Chamakh will ever do. The ones that do get an opportunity give it their all and sometimes succeed. We’re never going to succeed if we continue to flog the likes of Arshavin, Benayoun and Chamakh.